The almost nondescript town known only for its coal mines, erstwhile industries and a thriving railway division, Asansol hitherto managed to get national mainstream media coverage only during the tragic coal mine mishaps in which the poor workers died in large numbers. Death and violence are still the reasons for which Asansol is sought by the national mainstream media, as an unprecedented communal carnage tore apart the fabric of secularism that tied the city together since the 1940s. A communal riot was triggered in Asansol by the Hindutva fascist camp led by the RSS on Tuesday, 27 March 2018, following the saffron camp’s vile scheme of inciting fratricidal communal riots throughout West Bengal by using the backdrop of Ram Navami celebration, a festival which is alien to the majority Hindu Bengali community of the state.
The March 2018 communal riot in Asansol
The communal riot in Asansol started in the Muslim-majority Railpar area when an armed rally of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) passed through the area playing offensive music and hurling choicest slurs at the Muslim community members. The poor neighbourhoods of the Railpar area, where mostly non-Bengali Hindus and Muslims live, remained a hotbed of communalism since a long time. However, when the armed rally of the VHP entered the Muslim majority area and started raising objectionable slogans like – “Hindustan mein rehna hai to Ram ka naam lena hai” (if you want to live in India then chant the name of Rama), “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan, Kat** bhago Pakistan” (Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan, Muslims go to Pakistan), the local Muslims were irked and they protested against the rally, which consisted of Hindutva thugs hired by the RSS from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The objections raised by the local Muslims gave rise to a scuffle, which sparked violence, as Hindutva goons of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS barged into the locality brandishing swords, tridents, Chinese 9mm pistols, country-made one-shotter guns, crude bombs, petrol bombs and hand grenades. There was a sudden attack on the Muslim localities of Railpar area by people who were mostly outsiders and spoke Hindi in a dialect that’s quite alien to Asansol.
Houses were set on fire after petrol bombs were hurled, the Muslim youth were terrorised with bombs and bullets of the Hindutva terror. Sibtulla Rashidi, a 16-year-old std X student was dragged by the Hindutva mob and bludgeoned to death. His body was recovered by the police and later, during his funeral, his father, Imam Imadadul Rashidi, appealed for peace, calling the violence and counter-violence in the name of religion as an alien culture for those who live in Asansol. His threat of leaving Asansol in case of Muslims resorting to violence to avenge the murder of his son won him praises of the secular and democratic people throughout the country. However, there have been attacks on the Hindu localities in Chandmari and Dhadka by some Muslim goons, hired by the VHP for the purpose and the blame of the attack, in which a woman, Pratima Devi (48) was brutally killed, was laid on the Muslim community, which actually became the biggest victim of the communal violence.
Throughout Dhadka, Chandmari and other mixed community areas of Railpar, the other side of the Asansol town, which is close to the bypass of the NH-2 connecting Delhi to Kolkata and few kilometres away from the heart of the city, violence kept brewing as the Hindutva terrorists launched several attacks on the Muslim houses and then, Muslim hooligans, on the payroll of local politicians, attacked and vandalised the Hindu houses. As the locality is majorly a Hindi speaking belt of middle-class and poor, the losses were irrecoverable for them in the magnitude and depth. The fleeing Hindus were hijacked by Lakshman Gorai, a Hindutva terror monger and an accomplice of Babul Supriyo, and these people were forced to live in relief camps and were not allowed to leave those camps. Then Lakshman Gorai and Babul Supriyo, with the help of the national mainstream corporate media, tried to use these victims of communal violence to spew venom against the local Muslims and to cover the complicity of the BJP and other fascist progeny organisations of the RSS that deliberately took the rally into the Muslim localities and used provocative slogans to start communal violence.
Even after trying hard to fuel the tension throughout the region, Babul Supriyo and Lakshman Gorai failed drastically to spread the circumference of the riot throughout the city since 27 March. The BJP men from Burnpur’s Ram Bandh, Shyam Bandh, Narasingha Bandh, Purania Talab and Asansol’s Budha, have been trying to launch a large-scale attack on the Muslim neighbourhood of Rahmat Nagar in Burnpur on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti and they have been trying to send their men inside the Muslim locality to kickstart violence with communal scuffles. Some men of the BJP are trying to provoke the Hindu Bengalis living in the posh localities of Puranahat and Subhashpally, using the goons of the slain mafia and gangster Sukumar Biswas (a.k.a Jishu), so that the Hindus of these areas can come out against the Muslims living in neighbouring Rahmat Nagar area. However, their attempts didn’t materialise and Burnpur remained aloof from communal trouble for the time being.
In other parts of Burnpur, taking advantage of the internet ban, SMS’ are sent to the BJP supporters in Hirapur, Ambagan, Rangapara, Riverside, Kalajharia and other parts, to rally in large numbers against the Muslim community and the usual – “Hindus are in danger” – SOS was reportedly sent to many supporters of the RSS. In New Town, 9 no. Basti, Chinakuri, Sheetalpur, Radha Nagar, the communal vitriol was spread using the bush telegraph campaigns of the BJP. Many BJP members have been visiting Chinakuri and adjacent coal mine areas to incite the non-Bengali Hindu workers against their Muslim neighbours. The same model is followed since Monday in the workers’ quarter areas of SAIL ISP’s Burnpur township, where the working class lived happily side by side for decades.
Narasingha Bandh, Santha Dangal, Purania Talab of Burnpur, Mohishila colony, District Hospital area, Ismail, Islampur, Aghuripara and parts of Rashdanga, Bhanga Panchil and parts of Ushagram in Asansol are highly tensed due to the provocative campaigning by the RSS. The BJP needs manpower for its riot project in Asansol where it wants an anti-Muslim pogrom of the magnitude of Muzaffarnagar so that the voters, who have been duped by BJP MP Babul Supriyo since last four years with elusive promises of development, can be forced to vote the BJP out of Islamophobia. The “Hindu under siege” campaign is carried out unofficially by the BJP throughout all Hindu majority area and through its numerous affiliate organisations, the BJP is trying to bring in more local footsoldiers to its fold so that the violence can be intensified and prolonged in Railpar and gradually spread to other Muslim majority areas of the city.
The current situation in Asansol and the major challenges to peace and communal unity
Until 31 March, despite the visit by the former RSS activist and present Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, Asansol remains tensed, the markets are open but rumours are selling like hot cake than the commodities that the shopkeepers are selling. The footpath market of Asansol main market, where the Muslim traders from the Railpar area of the city usually set up their shops and sell clothes, crockeries, etc., gives a deserted look and even the main shops of the market don’t look quite happening. The disconnection of the internet created trouble for ATMs, banks and other public services. The total city is in chaos and the aggrieved people are made believe by a section of the administration of Mamata Banerjee that the sole responsible party for this chaos is the Muslim community of the city. The government agencies are hand-in-glove with the BJP leadership and they are spreading rumours and anti-Muslim slurs through their corridor-grapevines.
Though bush telegraph campaigns and direct interventions by the BJP MP Babul Supriyo failed to instigate any major communal violence in other parts of Asansol, there is an intensification in the level of communal hatred and mistrust between the two communities of the area. The reactionary section of the Bengali Hindu community, the backward sections of the Bengali and non-Bengali Dalits, the tribal people, especially the Santhals and the Bauris, and a large number of non-Bengali poor Hindu people have been endorsing the version of the BJP and the Hindutva camp regarding the “aggression of Muslims” due to several reasons. While for some, it’s a shrewd political ploy to reach their goals, for others, it’s their pure lack of political awareness that’s drawing them to the trap laid by the RSS and the BJP.
The major challenge to establish peace and restore communal unity among the people, especially the broad masses of the working class, which stands divided today due to the mindless violence promoted by Babul Supriyo and his RSS accomplices, is the covert support of the TMC and the Mamata Banerjee administration that the riot mongers are enjoying. The TMC government is baking its own bread in the chaos by polarising the Muslim voters, and by using the old rhetoric – “we are equal” and “Bengal isn’t home for communalism”, they are trying to wean the secular and progressive Bengali voters towards their fold. The tragic failure of TMC’s own Ram Navami celebrations throughout West Bengal, which was designed to appease the Hindi-speaking Hindus residing in the state and score brownies vis-a-vis the BJP, has put the party leaders of the locality like V. Shivdasan, Malay Ghatak and Jitendra Tiwari to backfoot. They are unable to show anyway and they are subtly allowing the rioters to execute their nefarious plans in the Railpar area at regular intervals. The police force deployed by Mamata Banerjee is looking helplessly at the situation and are only cordoning off the area, without allowing anyone to go inside the Dhadka, Chandmari, Sripur, Rama Krishna Dangal etc.
Though the police have filed FIR against several RSS activists, they didn’t arrest anyone significant, except few unemployed boys from Dhadka. The killers of Imam Rashidi’s son and Pratima Devi are still roaming scot-free and there seems to be no SIT on the table to investigate the root cause of the riot and its aftermath. The West Bengal government and the Trinamool Congress seems to be more interested in stopping the trade unions, civil society organisations, people’s organisations, mass organisations and political parties of the left, including the former ruling party and parliamentary left CPI(M), from organising peace and unity rally in the disturbed areas of Asansol.
The police and the administration are working blindly following the commands of the Chief Minister and her party men, allowing no political party to reach out to the victims of the riot and the areas, except those of the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal and their lead – the RSS. The recent visit of the BJP parliamentary team with the communal rabble-rouser and Hindutva terror monger Rupa Ganguly was given a free pass by the police, with few scripted interruptions to fool the people. There is a very notorious nexus between the Hindutva terrorists and the TMC leadership, which is visible in the political arena now and it’s one of the reasons that led to a riot in Asansol and West Bengal.
Why communal riots took place in Asansol?
What made communal riots in Asansol a reality? When just a few years back it was an unthinkable thing to happen in such a multicultural city? The answers to these questions are complex in themselves and they point their finger, not at the RSS or the VHP, who were merely using the Ram Navami celebration for their political gains, but at the secular Bengali community that remained indifferent to the need of the city for an antidote to communalism. The buck stops at the denial mode in which the Bengali Hindus and Muslims have grown up since 1992, which reiterates that communalism has no space in Bengal’s soil from a metaphysical and absolutely baseless outlook. Though West Bengal remained aloof from the communal polarisation that took place in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other places since the 1980s and which intensified in the post-Babri Masjid demolition period, the material conditions that are required to fuel communal tension and spark large-scale riots are present in West Bengal since a long time. By overlooking those material realities and by singing paeans to an idealist, self-deceptive social order, a large-section of the secular, democratic and progressive forces of West Bengal lived in a fool’s paradise since a long time.
Asansol, Raniganj and Durgapur once were flourishing hubs of trade, commerce and industries of the state. A lot of migrant workers of different religions and castes came from all over India and settled in these towns. Their culture, traditions, beliefs and way of life differed with the Bengali settlers, East Bengali refugees, tribal people and the minority Muslims and Christians living in the area since the colonial period. A strong trade union movement for their rights and livelihood, waves of people’s democratic revolutionary struggle, peasants’ movement, etc. kept the working class of this region tied with each other for their class interests.
The heroic struggles waged by the working class in IISCO factory of Burnpur, in the paper mills and coal mines of Raniganj, in the coal mines of Chinakuri or against the closure of the Glass Factory, Hindustan Cables, MAMC etc. created a strong sense of unity among the people, which started waning when the movements slothed gradually due to the dominance of opportunism in the left camp and due to the advent of the neo-liberal economic reign, which ended the era of “permanent jobs” and public hirings, forcing people to sell their labour in the unorganised sectors and thereby become unorganised labour.
With the disinvestment of the public sector units (PSUs) that provided secure jobs to the local population, the scope of employment for the local population diminished and the youth was subjected to absolute doom since the mid-1990s. A large-scale labour migration started from the region and the reign of contractual labour in the factories, mines and railways paved way for a contractor regime in the region, along with the dominance of the private money-lenders, mostly upper-caste North Indian Hindus. This nexus is revered by all political parties and they call the shots and decide upon the political future of the city.
With the arrival of the neo-liberal economy and the subsequent abject poverty for the Muslims, Dalits and tribal people, the genuine and militant working class movement started facing setbacks due to the opportunism exhibited by the parliamentary left that ruled the state at that time. This created an ideological vacuum in the area, since 1993-94, which was gradually filled by the RSS and the VHP, who used their North Indian manpower to open up Akharas, schools and other frontal organisations to carry out terrorist propaganda among the common, non-Bengali Hindus. The largest rally that the VHP could take out along with the Bajrang Dal demanding an end to cow slaughter during 2001 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was ruling the country and Mamata Banerjee was mesmerised by the BJP, had a presence of 40-50 people. This number has grown manifold in the recent years when Narendra Modi became the prime minister of the country and his government’s ministers started outdoing each other to spread communal and caste hatred throughout the country.
The major reason for this communal flare-up is the availability of a large number of unemployed youth in the city, who have not found any suitable employment as per their qualifications since the 1990s. The swelling of this unemployment figure, the rising outward migration of skilled and unskilled labour, the lack of political education and initiatives for the majority of the Hindu Dalits, tribal people and Muslims are some of the factors that allowed the RSS to select the area as a breeding ground for its Hindutva agenda. By merely paying ₹300 per head every day, the BJP has built a huge army of Namashudra Bengalis, tribal people and Hindi-speaking Dalits and backward caste men who can kill for it. The immense funding that the BJP is getting from the Adanis, Ambanis, etc. is helping the party in hiring mercenaries and sending them to states and places where communal riots can be a game changer for the BJP.
A lot of money, a lot of hired manpower, an incessant flow of vitriol targeting the Muslims of Railpar and Rahmat Nagar, constant sub-layered propaganda done by the non-Bengali RSS workers, the falling level of education and other social development parameters of the local Muslim community, the unapologetic appeasement of the Muslim fundamentalists and reactionary clergy by Mamata Banerjee and a constant socio-cultural and religious aggression of North and West Indian Vaishnav Hindu religion on the Bengali conscience has together combined to make the soil of Asansol highly combustible. This field is prepared through years of groundwork by the RSS and VHP men, and they could do so because Mamata Banerjee has provided the Hindutva terror mongers absolute freedom by relaxing her government’s control out of her gratitude towards the RSS, the very organisation that helped her carve her independent image as a right-wing reactionary politician 20 years ago.
Mamata Banerjee’s hand-in-glove nexus with the Hindutva fascists made Ram Navami a bloody event in Asansol. Rather than thwarting the attempts by the Hindutva camp to instigate communal riots by using Ram Navami celebration as an ostensible goal, the TMC plunged into the soft-Hindutva fray to appease the Marwari and Gujarati trading community, who are the core investors of the Hindutva camp, to get some financial leverage and also support in the 2019 general election. The Marwari and Gujarati trading community, composed of the arch-reactionary comprador capitalists and deal brokers, used the scope to strengthen the Hindutva movement of the RSS and legitimise Ram Navami as a mainstream Bengali festival, even when a large number of Bengali Hindus are unaware of the festival.
One of the major reason of the riots to break out during the Ram Navami rallies was the permission that the RSS and its affiliated organisations and frontal organisations received to take their rallies through the Muslim majority or communally sensitive areas where tension can be triggered within seconds. Railpar was one of such areas where a large number of poor and lower-middle class Hindus and Muslims, mostly devoid of modern education and broader political outlook, lives. Even when they have lived in harmony, except few skirmishes now and then, for so long, there was a good scope to wreak havoc of violence on them by relying upon outsiders who would spread violence without considering the consequences. The VHP and Bajrang Dal did the same. Their goons, hired from outside, carried out the most violent acts and then the blame was laden on the local people, most of whom were arrested by the police.
Babul Supriyo, the Outsider MP and the Riot Monger
For the first time in the history of Asansol since 1950, the BJP won the Lok Sabha with extreme ease and Babul Supriyo, who is the maiden outsider MP of the constituency in decades, found himself representing an area in the parliament with which he shares no connection. This no-strings-attached relationship that Babul Supriyo or the Modi-brigade has with Asansol in particular and West Bengal, in general, has allowed them to ignite communal tensions throughout the state, as even if the whole West Bengal is gutted by flames of fratricidal violence, their home will still remain secure.
In the last four years, Babul Supriyo has devoted his energy as part of the faction of Dilip Ghosh and Locket Chatterjee of the BJP to widen the communal fissures that are exhibiting themselves in Asansol. The anti-cow slaughter stint, the violent attacks on the opposition parties, the violence exhibited to bully the small traders and shopkeepers of Bengali origin, the strengthening of the domination of coal mafia, contractor mafia, gun-runners, bootleggers and other criminals in the region happened under the vigilant leadership of Babul Supriyo.
Babul Supriyo not only gathered the traditional non-Bengali vegetarian and utmost Hindutva fanatic upper-caste men under his leadership, but he used his Bengali “singer” and intellectual identity to reach out to the East Bengal refugees living in the different colony areas, including the place where Supriyo has rented an accommodation – Mohishila. The fake news, bush telegraph campaigns, incessant flow of lies and fabricated information in the form of news, exhibition of utmost virulence, demagogy against the Muslims, etc. show that the celebrity MP of the town is not new to politics, but an expert communal demagogue like his colleague, the yesteryear singer and a misogynist rape threat issuer at present- Abhijeet Bhattacharya.
The BJP’s growth in Asansol may have happened due to the enthusiastic participation of the Hindi-speaking North Indian Hindus, who happen to control the economy of the city, the Bengali community, especially the Bengali Namashudras (Dalits), backward castes and a large-section of the upper-caste, elite Bhadralok community are also victims of the communal seduction. They are lured by the promise of a Muslim-less Bengal and Asansol, high-paid jobs, “Gujarat-model” development, etc. but when the MP couldn’t deliver anything to Asansol that could make people see anything close to development, to retain the seat in 2019, Babul Supriyo decided to turn Asansol-Raniganj and the entire industrial zone of West Burdwan district into Muzaffarnagar of Uttar Pradesh.
It’s said that Babul Supriyo, or the BJP for that matter, couldn’t have wrested the Asansol seat even in 2014 Lok Sabha polls if the Trinamool Congress had not allowed them a free passage. The selection of Asansol by the BJP was actually a part of a long-term strategy of the RSS, which calls for using the non-Bengali dominant belts of West Bengal to infiltrate and then ignite the flames of a communal pogrom by inciting the Hindi-speaking Hindus living there against the Muslim population. The only major breakthrough that the RSS achieved in the Bengali-speaking rural heartland of West Bengal was the Baduria and Basirhat riots. The communal riot in Asansol was planned according to the main plan and both BJP and TMC are partners-in-crime in this scheme.
Though the police didn’t allow Babul Supriyo to enter the Dhadka and Chandmari area, the government has done nothing to contain the situation and allowed the man and his hate mongers travel throughout the city on their SUVs and raise communal rhetoric wherever they have gone. Babul Supriyo’s goons are brandishing weapons and threatening common people, even in the Hindu dominated areas of the city, and are trying to incite riots in new corners of Asansol after successfully accomplishing the job at Railpar. The Mamata Banerjee government only filed an FIR as a hogwash to divert people’s attention from the grassroots unity shared by the TMC and the BJP and no action is taken by the police to stop the communal goons from chest thumping throughout the city.
The Road to Unity in Asansol
Communal riot in Asansol is a blot on the rich heritage of the city. The killing of human beings in the name of religion remained an alien concept for the people of Asansol, as well as West Bengal since the gruesome Noakhali riots and the Calcutta riots of 1946. The advent of the Hindutva camp, endorsed by the TMC government and the class they represent, is tearing that very fabric of West Bengal and making the state succumb to the aggression of Hindi-Hindutva forces of the RSS.
It’s an evident fact that the riots are spread by outsiders; in Basirhat-Baduria, or in Raniganj and Kankinara, the feral mob found rampaging were all Hindi-speaking North Indians. Seldom does the Marwari-Gujarati and Punjabi traders of the region who want to retain their monopoly over trade and commerce of the area would allow a secular environment to flourish. The ruling classes, the Marwari-Gujarati-Punjabi trader clique, wants to see a strong BJP ruling the state and end the trade union and mass organisation movements against exploitation of labour, oppressed people and communities.
The police force of Mamata Banerjee will spear no rounds of bullets to gun down Maoist leaders like Kishenji, will not blink before beating to death a student activist of the SFI, will not think twice before shooting the farmers rallying against forcible acquisition of their agricultural land by the Mamata Banerjee government in Bhangar, won’t think twice before they beat the parliamentary left protesters during their rally to the state secretariat – Nabanna, and they won’t leave a chance to slap UAPA, use brutal force and violence against student activists protesting against Hindutva terror. However, the same police force remains mute spectators when the communal rioters burn down West Bengal and the last vestiges of its secular credentials. They won’t fire at the rioters of the VHP or the Bajrang Dal, they won’t lathi-charge on the RSS men, because they belong to the same league, as their class masters are same.
To achieve communal unity and to ensure Asansol strongly fights back against the riot mongers and their lackeys, the people and the progressive-democratic organisations can’t harp on the police and the administration for cooperation or even permission to organise political programmes. The police are now working as the pawns of the Hindutva scheme like they did in Akhilesh Yadav-ruled Uttar Pradesh to bring in the BJP. The same is happening in West Bengal and Mamata Banerjee is allowing this to happen deliberately as she wants the BJP to grow powerful and disintegrate the militant opposition of the revolutionary and progressive left forces that represent the interests of the working class, the peasantry and the exploited people.
Only the politically conscious, democratic, secular and progressive people of Asansol, from all communities, castes and walk of life can bring a real change in Asansol if they rally against communal riots together, reaching out to Hindus and Muslims equally and then politically arousing them with the vibrant ideology of secular-democracy. It’s not hard to undo the harm done by the goons and thugs of Babul Supriyo in Asansol in case the communities are connected with each other, mistrust, stereotypes and wrong perceptions are smashed by more interactions between the majority Hindus and minority Muslims, and by uniting the working class, the lifeline of the city, against the communal elements that want to shatter their unity. The unity of the working class was broken by the Congress, CPI(M), TMC and the BJP to ensure the rule of the money-lenders, mafia and big comprador capitalists go unopposed in the city. It’s time to remember the struggles of the past, get inspired by the stories of the heroic workers of Burnpur, Raniganj and Durgapur to build up massive resistance struggle against the communal forces operating in Asansol.
A strong working class movement against the communal thugs affiliated with the Hindutva camp led by the RSS and the BJP, and their patron Mamata Banerjee’s government, can truly shatter the scheme of “social engineering” that Babul Supriyo is implementing according to the diktats of his New Delhi and Nagpur-based masters. If the strong opposition coming from an Imam of a mosque, whose son was killed by the Hindutva thugs, can motivate people to march towards communal harmony, the result of a strong anti-communal working-class movement, under a united banner of all trade unions and political parties that want to defeat the communal forces, can do real wonders. It’s one thing that Babul Supriyo and his ilk of American-Israeli lackeys are scared of, and thus it can be a lethal weapon for Asansol to payback the communal riot mongers in their own coins.
Asansol is the city that never got cowed down and its people have a rich heritage of waging strong struggles for their rights under the crimson banner. Once called a red fortress, Asansol cannot just succumb to a bunch of thugs lead by a half-baked singer and his servants. Asansol is the home of the working class and it has shown for decades that how people of different communities and languages can live side-by-side without killing each other. The spirit of Asansol is embracing people warmly and making them feel at home. However, when those whom it had sheltered, tries to stab its back, break the unity of the people, then Asansol must rise up and throw them out of the city forever. The city has more in it than what’s apparently visible and if the working class of the city can be brought together, for one common purpose of unity against communal hatred then it will certainly throw the bigots like Babul Supriyo, Locket Chatterjee or Rupa Ganguly into the bin of history, where even their most revered cows wouldn’t like to pee.